Take a Hike
Writer Amanda Christmann
Photography Courtesy of Sedona Visitors’ Center
Valley trails are fantastic, but when the summer heat stops us in our tracks, sometimes the best option is to take a hike for a cooler trail. Whether you’re looking for a great workout or to simply to take in spectacular views while breathing in the outdoors, Sedona is the place to be.
With temperatures, on average, 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Phoenix year-round, there’s nothing like beating the heat in one of the most beautiful places in the country. It may be only an hour’s drive away, but Sedona can feel like an entirely different planet than anywhere else on Earth.
Each year, according the U.S. Forest Service, about 3 million hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and sight seers visit the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest. Seemingly hundreds of trails criss-cross the breathtaking red rock terrain.
An endless array of canyons and cliffs offer climbs, crevasses, hidden grasslands and gently rolling waterways to explore. About 1,400 plant species and 200 types of birds thrive here, along with antelope, black bears, mule deer, gray foxes and more.
With so many hikes to choose from, the most difficult task is choosing one to begin.
One shady hike perfect for beginners, or for anyone whose hiking boots are not yet broken in, is the Fay Canyon Trail. Named after rancher Alvin Fay, who founded one of the state’s first territorial counties in the 1860s, this 2.3-mile out-and-back trail is ideal for sunny days because of the unexpected shade provided by manzanitas and junipers.
Flat and breezy, it runs along the red-dust canyon floor, framed by rocky outcrops. Along the way, if you look closely, you’ll be rewarded with a changing terrain—from yuccas and prickly pear, to an ancient-looking forest of alligator juniper, then to towering oaks at the end. Also at the end is a rock formation that provides an easy climb and an unbeatable view of the entire canyon.
About halfway down the main trial is a short, steep side trail that leads to the Fay Canyon Arch. Marked by cairns, it can be tricky to find, but a treat once you do. This natural arch is a stunning natural wonder, spanning approximately 90 feet about 15 feet above the canyon floor.
Alongside the arch is something much more contemporary: 20th century rock wall ruins. Though not as dynamic as many of the ruins hidden in area canyons, they still spark the imagination and mark something a little unusual for city dwellers.
Beyond the arch is an old Jeep track trail that winds through a beautiful small, hidden canyon. The trail eventually narrows to a footpath before dead-ending at a red Supai sandstone cliff with much more ancient ruins.
Like most of the trails in the Red Rock Ranger District, a Red Rock Pass is required to park at or near the trailhead. Fees collected from these passes go to preserve local natural resources, as well as toward recreation and visitors’ services. Passes are $5 for one day; $15 for one week; and $20–$40 for an annual pass, depending on the sites you choose to visit. Passes can be purchased at one of three easy-to-find Visitors’ Centers in Sedona.
Of course, once you’ve escaped the heat, you may just want to stay. Be sure to spend time at Sedona’s signature art galleries, shops, and restaurants. You just may not want to leave until fall!
Though temperatures are a bit cooler than Phoenix, many of the same rules apply for hiking and other outdoor activities:
1. Bring plenty of water. There is no potable water at trailheads.
2. Wear appropriate footwear, such as shoes or boots. Do not wear flip flops or sandals due to snakes,
cactus and other potential hazards.
3. Hike early. Sunset in the desert hits quickly. Once the sun goes down, it can be very difficult to see
the trail or potential hazards.
4. Pack it in, pack it out. Do not litter.
5. Do not build cairns (stacked rocks used to mark the trail). The Forest Service puts up cairns in special
cages to mark trails. Additional cairns can be confusing for others.
6. Do not attempt to cross dry river beds during rains. Flash flooding occurs often in the desert.
7. Stay on designated trails. Desert soil and plants are fragile, and can take years to regrow.
8. Share your route. Be sure to tell someone where you will be hiking.
Check It Out!
Each year, the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest waives fees associated with many sites and amenities. No Red Rock Passes are needed on these upcoming dates.
Buy the Book
Sedona outdoor enthusiasts Cindy Woudenberg, Jan McInnis, Katy Chrisler and Stephanie Vance have put together a hiking guide to showcase some of the best and least-known trails in Sedona. Sales support trail maintenance and preservation.
Nine Easy Hikes in Sedona
Sedona Visitor Information Center
331 Forest Rd., Sedona
Fee Free Days
June 9: National Get Outdoors Day
July 4: Independence Day
Free entrance to all Red Rock Pass
fee program sites.
Red Rock Ranger District